Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Matthew 27
15Now it was the governor's custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. 17So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, "Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" 18For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.
19While Pilate was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent him this message: "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him."
20But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
21"Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" asked the governor.
"Barabbas," they answered.
22"What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?" Pilate asked.
They all answered, "Crucify him!"

In the twelfth century he was called Robin Hood, an endless source of trite songs and tedious films.

In Jacobean England he went by the unlikely name Guy, as any child who can recite poetry will tell you: “Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot.”

In the 1950’s he was called simply “Che,” proof-positive that dying young and leaving a good photo will improve your chances of becoming an icon.

By the 1980’s he was rather faceless, choosing instead to adopt the name “Contra,” a banal name that anyone with high school Spanish will tell you means “against.”

One man’s pirate is another man’s privateer. A rebel remains an outlaw until he becomes a revolutionary hero. "We must hang together,” Poor Richard said, “else, we shall most assuredly hang separately." Such is the potential plight of the bandit, rebel or outlaw.


6Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7A man called Barabbas was in prison with the [others] who had committed murder in the uprising. 8The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. (Mark 15)

An alphabet soup of translations leaves no doubt about the character of this man: One calls Barabbas an insurrectionist; another gives him the name revolutionary; and yet another calls him a rebel.

Why choose Barabbas?

Only one man chose to challenge the real power of Rome, and that man was Barabbas. He took to the hills with his friends and began a campaign to win the hearts and minds of the people.

Only Barabbas opened clinics and schools and taught the children to hate their enemies.

Only Barabbas destroyed the electrical grid to give the rich a taste of village life.

Only Barabbas burned crops to make the people dependent on the food he could provide.

Only Barabbas was willing to recruit teenagers to strap explosives and shrapnel to themselves and head for the marketplace.

Why choose Barabbas?

Historians will tell you that the nature and intensity of the opposition will indicate the severity of the social conditions. A violent uprising tells the story of hardship and frustration; Empty benches during a confidence vote means times are good.

Why choose Barabbas?

Because we can’t resist the anti-hero. He has been a staple of storytelling from the beginning, outwitting the police, getting the girl, always being kind to the little people.

Why choose Barabbas?

Because he is readily understood. What on earth is Jesus offering? What does his programme look like? How can someone with the power to move mountains submit to a pathetic functionary like Pilate?

Why choose Barabbas?

He might be a murderer, but he’s our murderer. He wants to free the people, feed the hungry, and make the Rome pay for years of humiliation. Barabbas is someone to be proud of, and someone willing to do something, finally.


Never underestimate our capacity for short-term thinking. I try not to think beyond my next meal, let alone what will happen tomorrow. We seem perpetually attuned to the now, what I want, what I need, what I deserve, what should happen to me. Barabbas is the hero of the now, the rebel with an immediate cause, a name that is as easy to shout as “crucify!”

Jesus is the champion of the long-term. John’s Jesus says “take courage; I have conquered the world!" But this is no conquest that the “People’s Front” would recognize. This is spiritual revolution, the kind of transformation that enters a heart immediately but only changes a community with time. Barabbas’ revolution continued upon his release, then he disappears from history. Jesus’ revolution would cause Rome to fall, but what is Rome when you have conquered the world?

Jesus is the champion of the long-term. First and last, God wants a relationship with us, and can only achieve this by entering our experience. God lives and dies (at our hands) to experience the fullness of life on earth: to learn and grow, to make friends and challenge family, to laugh at the pub and cry at the death of a good friend. God met every kind of person and landed in every kind of situation. And having tasted life, Jesus chose death, even death on a cross, knowing that spiritual revolution is the only real hope for the future.


From our viewpoint, Jesus or Barabbas doesn’t seem like much of a choice. Failed revolution or spiritual revolution. Next week or eternity. Jesus or Barabbas doesn’t seem like much of a choice at all. But someone wise once said look again at the situation and consider these two men. Wouldn’t Jesus choose Barabbas too? Wouldn’t Jesus gladly trade his life for Barabbas, as he would gladly trade his life for me or for you?


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